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Don't Bet On It: Around the S.E.C.

Both personally and as a citizen of Bulldog Nation, I had a great weekend. On Saturday, I attended a family reunion of sorts at which all of my first cousins were present. On Sunday, my parents, my wife, and I took my son for a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine at Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park. Over the course of the weekend, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee all joined Georgia and Florida among the ranks of S.E.C. East teams with two conference losses.

Those positive developments helped make up for the fact that I was a mere 3-3 in last week's S.E.C. picks, dropping my league ledger for the autumn to 44-12. After that sort of performance, I scarcely need to issue my usual disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!

What do I know? I thought the guy who played Roy would be the breakout star of "Wings."

For the most part, this week's slate of S.E.C. contests stinks. If the St. John's River doesn't flow by the stadium, chances are the contest isn't going to be much of a contest. With any luck, this means I will be something other than awful when predicting the outcomes of the following outings, all of which will take place on October 27:

Florida International at Arkansas: Houston Nutt's game day antics may give the impression that he calls plays from the sideline while trance-channeling James Brown with an electric eel crawling up the inside of his left pant leg or impersonating the scene from "Lost Highway" in which Bill Pullman changes into Balthazar Getty, but the Razorbacks' head coach is crazy like a fox. Why on earth would the Hogs schedule F.I.U., of all teams? I believe Coach Nutt is aware that Andy Garcia attended Florida International and he is hoping that, if the popular actor is present for the game, it will mean that Garcia's three casinos are unguarded, enabling "Nutt's 11" to pull off an unprecedented heist and make off with enough money to get him the heck out of coaching in the S.E.C. Fortunately, Coach Nutt's insane fixation on stealing over $150 million and the heart of Julia Roberts will distract him from the game, thereby paving the way for an easy Arkansas victory.

The student-athletes from Florida International should feel right at home in downtown Fayetteville's thriving multicultural restaurant scene.

Miami (Ohio) at Vanderbilt: The formula for ending the Commodores' bowl drought---now standing at a quarter of a century and counting---was a simple one. If Vandy won all four non-conference contests and managed just two wins in S.E.C. play, that would get the Commies to 6-6 and make them bowl-eligible. Victories over Ole Miss and South Carolina have Bobby Johnson's squad sitting at 4-3 with five games to go. Collecting another conference win will be tough against a slate consisting of Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee, but, if the 'Dores can get past the RedHawks, the season-ender against Wake Forest in Nashville will be for a shot at a bowl berth. Here's the problem, though . . . we've seen this movie before. Since 1982, Vanderbilt has come up one win shy of a winning record five times. The Music City Sailors went undefeated in non-conference play in just two of those five seasons, being kept out of postseason play by losses to Tulane by four points in 1984, to Duke by four points in 1991, and to Middle Tennessee State by two points in 2005. I'll be rooting for the Commodores, but, honestly, this is just the sort of game Vandy is liable to find a way to lose, particularly after scoring their biggest upset in seven decades. Miami (Ohio) will beat Vanderbilt (Tennessee).

Mississippi at Auburn: The numerous rumors surrounding this game are flying fast and furious. Will Ed Orgeron be fired? Will Tommy Tuberville leave for Texas A&M? Will Coach Orgeron and Coach Tuberville co-star in a Broadway revival of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple"? While many questions remain unanswered, one fact is completely clear: under Coach O's direction, the Rebels have gone 2-11 on the road, with both wins coming in away games against Memphis. Short of an historic day for Ole Miss, the Plainsmen will get back on the winning track at home.

I hate Auburn.

Mississippi State at Kentucky: If I had told you two months ago that both of these teams would come into this game at or above .500 with wins over Auburn and L.S.U., respectively, you'd have thought I was crazy, yet here we are. The Wildcats already are bowl eligible and are strongly in contention in an Eastern Division in which the first-place team is 3-2 in conference play and the last-place team is 2-3 in conference play. With four wins already in their ledger, the Bulldogs are enjoying their best season under Sylvester Croom and M.S.U. needs two wins in its last four games to qualify for the program's first bowl game since the snowbound overtime Independence Bowl on New Year's Eve 2000. This is a big game for both teams, but U.K. is playing at a much higher level than Mississippi State, which has gone 5-13 in road games under Coach Croom. In an atypical role reversal, I like the 'Cats to outduel the 'Dogs.

South Carolina at Tennessee: There's an old joke about a mediocre football team with a star tailback named Simmons. In the annual game against the team's most bitter rival, the squad is getting hammered. The team's offense can't get anything going; every player who touches the ball immediately is driven into the turf by the opposition's massive defensive front. From the stands, the call goes up: "Give Simmons the ball!" Soon, the cheer becomes a chant: "Give Simmons the ball! Give Simmons the ball!" Finally, the quarterback calls a time out, walks to midfield, and signals for the crowd to be quiet. Once the fans have drawn silent and no noise is to be heard, the quarterback cups his hands to his mouth and yells: "Simmons doesn't want the ball!" One wonders whether the contenders in the S.E.C. East (read: every S.E.C. East team not named for a steamship and railroad magnate), contemplating the prospect of facing L.S.U. in the Georgia Dome, aren't borrowing a page from Simmons's book and deferring to their conference coevals instead. Hey, that's as good an explanation as any for a season in which the Gamecocks and the Volunteers come into their late-season showdown sporting two league losses apiece yet preparing to play a game with meaningful Eastern Division implications. While the Palmetto State Poultry have been less than dominant offensively, Tennessee's defense has (with one noteworthy exception) been historically bad, so much so that I have faith in Steve Spurrier's ability to exploit the Vols' weaknesses even with the quarterbacks of questionable competence at the Evil Genius's disposal. South Carolina will waltz out of Knoxville with a win.

On the other hand, it isn't like they're some big, powerful team. Vanderbilt beat 'em this year.

Those are my best guesses regarding this weekend's S.E.C. outings, but, really, I haven't the faintest clue what will happen in this utterly nutty autumn, which is all the reason you would ever need to pay heed to my weekly disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!

Coming Soon: National Games of Interest . . .

Go 'Dawgs!